The MoDS project, funded by the Research Council of Finland, investigates how the “gang problem” has been created in the context of the Finnish welfare state. Rather than attempting to identify self-contained social groups or pathological subcultures, the project draws on the concept of moral drama and focuses on the ongoing negotiations of what is right and worthy, and what is problematic or a “moral threat” to society. The project adopts a holistic approach by examining a broad range of societal actors involved and their interrelatedness.
First, the project examines moral dramas from above. By conducting interviews with various authorities, the study investigates how street gangs are identified and defined as a public problem. Second, the project studies moral dramas from below. Utilizing go-along (n)etnography, street-involved individuals are accompanied on offline and online streets to see how they produce, negotiate, and oppose moral meanings in a globalized, digital era. Third, the project builds on multi-sited and relational ethnography by collecting street-level data of encounters between youths and local bureaucrats. These encounters shed light on how different worldviews clash in a moral drama of everyday interaction, as agents of the welfare state attempt to interpret and solve the gang problem on the ground.
The results provide a multidimensional account of processes contributing to “gang-ization” in Finland, and knowledge on how the Finnish welfare state treats its potentially deviant populations and why street-involved youths are inclined to interpret and act in the world in a certain way. By scrutinizing “street gangs” as a site of intensive moral struggle, the MoDS project addresses many of the most pressing urban problems currently facing our globalized cities: deepening inequalities, precarization, spatial segregation, racial discrimination, outbursts of urban violence, and the growing influence of legal–moral governance.